Correct grammar is often a hot topic around here. So I thought it was appropriate. Your Modifier Is Dangling October 21, 2007 The Age of Dissonance By BOB MORRIS Not long ago, an elderly friend and grammar stickler stopped me midsentence. I had just said, They gave it to him and I, when it should have been him and me. You have to keep in mind the object of the preposition, she gently told me. I felt ashamed, but also grateful to be corrected. And now you wont embarrass yourself in front of someone else, she said. She isnt the only one wagging a finger or a pencil these days. Bring up the topic of grammar at any party and youre likely to be hit with a tirade. But then, this is a time when e-mail messages, hip-hop slang, and a decider president who said that childrens do learn are chipping away at good grammar. Poor usage, of course, goes back at least to Shakespeare, who invented plenty of his own rules. In Pygmalion, George Bernard Shaw wrote that the English have no respect for their language, and spell it abominably. And Richard Brinsley Sheridans character Mrs. Malaprop, with her silly misuses, could hold her own on todays White House cabinet, or anyplace where being folksy sells better than being impeccable. Unfortunately, using poor grammar comes off as less pretentious, said Sharon Nichols, a 22-year-old law student. Everything is just so calculated in politics. Ms. Nichols is one of many young people throwing off her generations reputation for slovenly language, and taking up the gauntlet for good grammar. Last year, after seeing a sign on a restaurant window that said Applications Excepted, she started a grammar vigilante group on Facebook, the social networking site, and called it I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar. Its 200,000 members have gleefully and righteously sent in 5,000 photographs documenting grammatical errors. Facebook offers several grammar-crusading groups in high finger-wagging mode, including Citizens Against Poor Grammar and Grammar Freaks United. Meanwhile, Martha Brockenbrough, a Seattle writer, has started the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar, for waging her own battles. She wrote a scolding letter to a shampoo company that used the word structurizes. She has also written to President Bush. But I havent heard back from him, she said. Engaged as she is in flagging misuses, however, she doesnt correct people face to face. Lynne Agress, founder of Business Writing at Its Best, a 25-year-old Maryland-based company, is another stickler who wont correct people in social situations. You never want to make anyone uncomfortable, she said. Of course not. And you probably dont want to correct your boss, either. On the other hand, what kind of world would we have if everyone let grammar continue its drunken, downhill slide? Communication would become even more difficult than it already is. Civilization might even be hastened to its ultimate collapse. So, when is it O.K. to correct grammar? When youre a teacher, of course, or when youre coaching a nonnative speaker who has asked for help. But if you cant control the impulse to help a friend by correcting a mistake, whats the best way to do so? It seems there are two options. You can ask, Oh, is that the way you pronounce that word? Then go on to say that you always pronounced it differently, and demonstrate how you do so. A more subtle approach: Dont point out the mistake. Instead, repeat what was just said, but with correct usage this time, and in your own sentence. Then keep talking. Ms. Agress, the business-writing expert, uses this technique. So if someone tells me that everyone has their issues, she said, I reply, Yes, everyone has his issues, but that doesnt mean we have to worry about them. And unless we really care, we dont have to correct them, either.